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Guests at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex view the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit. (Photo: FLORIDA TODAY FILE PHOTO)

National Geographic Travel this week named Florida’s Space Coast as one of the world’s top five destinations for travelers to consider when planning a family-oriented vacation in 2021 and beyond. It is the only U.S. destination among the five.

The listing is part of the magazine’s “Best of the World 2021” list of 25 top destinations around the globe in five categories —  adventure, culture, family, nature and sustainability — with four to six destinations highlighted in each category. The Space Coast was one of six U.S. destinations to make the list of 25.

It was compiled and written by National Geographic Travel editors-in-chief from around the world, in collaboration with more than 100 National Geographic travel experts.

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Amy Alipio, a senior editor for National Geographic Travel, said the Space Coast stood out for the editors compiling the list because of its juxtaposition of space launches and ecotourism. 

The magazine’s article describes the Space Coast as “a launchpad for wonders, both in the sky and in waters below.”

The Space Coast was cited for such things as its rocket launches, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, manatee and dolphin viewing, and bioluminescence tours along the Indian River Lagoon by kayak.

“At the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (open with COVID-19 restrictions), families can watch scheduled blastoffs of SpaceX and Boeing spacecrafts, and walk among gigantic rockets towering over a hundred feet high,” the section on the Space Coast noted. “A different sort of giant, the lumbering West Indian manatee, plies the waters of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, surrounding the Space Center.”

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Kayakers view the bioluminescence in the Banana River. (Photo: MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY)

Space Coast Office of Tourism Executive Director Peter Cranis said the inclusion of Brevard County on the widely followed list is a significant achievement, as the Space Coast aims to recover from the tourism slump resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

Cranis plans to use the Space Coast’s inclusion on the list as part of future marketing efforts in both traditional and social media.

He said some local residents take for granted things like manatee viewing and rocket launches. But, for travelers from other parts of the country or other countries, they are memorable vacation experiences. 

In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, National Geographic Travel’s theme for this year’s listing is “Dream Now, Go Later.”

“While the pandemic has brought journeys to a standstill, it’s not quieted our curiosity,” National Geographic Travel Executive Editor George Stone said in announcing the list. “The world is full of wonders — even when they’re hard to reach.”

Stone encourages people to use the list to “discover something new about an extraordinary place or culture in our world, and perhaps dream up your next journey, for when that time comes.”

The other four destinations on the list of family-oriented journeys were:

  • England Coast Path, which is the world’s longest seafront walking trail. 
  • Hortobágy, Hungary.  
  • Indigenous British Columbia, Canada.  
  • Transylvania, Romania.  

U.S. destinations that made the Best of the World 2021 list in other categories were:

  • Culture and history: Pueblo Nations, New Mexico; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
  • Sustainability stars: Denver, Colorado.
  • Ultimate adventures: Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska. 
  • Wild beautiful places: Isle Royale, Michigan.

Alipio said the listing is one of National Geographic Travel’s most viewed stories every year, and is responsible for many people visiting the featured destinations. The listing also will appear in the printed editions of the magazine throughout Europe.

The full “Best of the World 2021” list can be viewed online at www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/features/best-of-the-world-2021/

Dave Berman is government editor at FLORIDA TODAY.  

Contact Berman at 321-242-3649 or [email protected] Twitter: @bydaveberman

To subscribe: https://cm.floridatoday.com/specialoffer/

Space Coast, Florida

A launchpad for wonders both in the sky and in waters below

With all systems go for U.S. astronauts to rocket into orbit via NASA’s new Commercial Crew program, Florida’s Atlantic shoreline east of Orlando is again at the center of space exploration. The 72-mile stretch, known as the Space Coast, includes launch facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

At the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (open with COVID-19 restrictions), families can watch scheduled blast-offs of SpaceX and Boeing spacecrafts and walk among gigantic rockets towering over a hundred feet high. A different sort of giant, the lumbering West Indian manatee, plies the waters of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, surrounding the space center.

Tour company Florida Adventurer leads kayaking trips in the 140,000-acre refuge. By day, kayakers are treated to glimpses of manatees and dolphins. At night (June to September or later), the refuge’s Indian River Lagoon hosts an otherworldly underwater show, called bioluminescence, courtesy of billions of light-producing plankton.

(Related: Learn more about Florida’s Space Coast and its wildlife haven.)

“On bioluminescence tours, kids see light zigzagging in every direction under the water,” says Florida Adventurer owner Josh Myers. “During the day, a manatee could pop up next to their kayak and squirt water at them. Those moments are life-changing for kids, inspiring them to learn more about what lives in the water.” —Ivan Vasin, Nat Geo Traveler Russia

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